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- Local lawmakers split over failed medical marijuana bill; voters may have a say (04/26/16)19
Rookie defensive end has impact
ST. LOUIS -- A year ago, Anthony Hargrove was doing grunt work for an airline in Atlanta. The rookie defensive end returns to his home base this weekend as a starter for the St. Louis Rams.
"It means the world to you," Hargrove said Wednesday. "How would you feel if this was your first year, your team is in the playoffs, and now you're playing well and you're part of the starting lineup that's really starting to come on?
"That makes your dream come true."
Hargrove played two years at Georgia Tech but was academically ineligible as a junior. The Rams saw enough to make him a third-round pick in this year's draft.
His job guiding planes into gates and loading baggage for Delta Airlines at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport kept him busy while he was ineligible.
Now he's a member of a defense that has been impressive the last few weeks after struggling almost the entire season to grasp the scheme of new coordinator Larry Marmie. The Rams, once ranked as low as 28th in the NFL in total defense, finished a respectable 17th.
Rams coaches like his combination of speed and size, and after being a reserve in the rotation most of the season he'll be making his third straight start in the NFC semifinals on Saturday night at Atlanta.
"To see where I am now, it just shows you that anything is possible," Hargrove said. "The sky's the limit always."
Lately, the combination of Hargrove and Bryce Fisher has been making the opposition pay for double-teaming left end Leonard Little. Fisher led the team with 8 1/2 sacks and Hargrove has been making fast progress since recovering from a stinger that limited him for about three weeks in midseason.
He had seven tackles and his first career sack in Week 14 against the Cardinals and had four tackles, including one for a 3-yard loss on Shaun Alexander, in his playoff debut in last week's 27-20 victory over the Seahawks.
"He's a terrific athlete, but there are so many other things he's learning," Rams coach Mike Martz said. "He's come light years just in the last four or five weeks."
Hargrove is one of several young linemen being tutored by vocal defensive line coach Bill Kollar. The line features three No. 1 picks: Damione Lewis and Ryan Pickett were taken in 2001 and Jimmy Kennedy came last year.
"That's one thing I've noticed, he never loses his voice," Hargrove said of Kollar. "I was kind of praying and hoping that would happen at some point in time."
Now comes his biggest challenge as a starter: chasing Michael Vick. Hargrove played sparingly in a 34-17 loss at Atlanta in the second week of the season, so this will be his first extended opportunity to play against the Falcons' dangerous quarterback.
"He's back there jumping around, in, out, left, right, sprinting around, making guys look bad," Hargrove said. "They call it the Michael Vick experience.
"You've got to look at him like, 'Man, how does he do stuff like that?' You're just amazed."
Hargrove is determined not to let Vick make him look silly.
"I don't want to be that guy," he said.
On a minor scale, the Rams believe Hargrove also could be a dual threat. He was a rather large quarterback in high school and impressed Martz with his pass-catching ability when he made a one-handed grab during a goal-line drill last week.
"As he learns that position, his role will expand," Martz said. "He catches the ball so well and he's such a physical guy that to not use him in years to come somewhere on the goal line or whatnot wouldn't make sense."
Hargrove said he hasn't heard anything about Martz's latest offensive wrinkle. Then he flashed a smile.
"But I wouldn't mind catching a touchdown pass or two," Hargrove said. "I wouldn't mind that at all."